phoenix_icons phoenix_icons Filter

My digital career: Sue Keay

Dr Sue Keay is Research Director for Cyber Physical Systems at CSIRO Data61.

[Music plays and the CSIRO logo appears on a blue screen]

[Images flash through of robotic vehicles, Sue Keay talking to the camera, Sue at a podium, Sue sitting on a Panel talking, Sue’s photo on a book cover, and Sue pointing to a Data 61 sign above her]

Dr Sue Keay: My name’s Sue Keay and I’m the Research Director for Cyber Physical Systems with CSIRO’s Data 61.

[Image changes to show Sue smiling at the camera and the camera zooms in and text appears: My Digital Career, Dr Sue Keay] 

[Images flash through of Sue walking into a building and through an office, Sue working with students on a Smart display, and then Sue talking to the camera]

I have a digital career because Cyber Physical Systems is fundamentally how we get the digital world to interact with the physical world. 

[Images flash through of people working in a workshop on various types of robots, a close view of a Hexapod, a sensor, a track robot, a robot moving through a tunnel, and Sue talking and text appears: Physical + digital + biological]

We can get information about the world using things like robots, sensing systems, computer vision and even cybernetics which is where we combine the physical, digital and the biological 

[Images move through of Sue and some students working around a Smart display, Sue’s hands on the display, her face as she looks down, and then Sue talking to the camera again]

and use that information and actually take action in the world so that we can solve some of the great challenges that are facing the human race.

[Images move through of a close view of an eye and then of a sensor camera and then the image changes to show Sue and some students operating various robots on a workshop floor]

The term robotic vision is how you apply computer vision to robotics. 

[Images move through of Sue and the students looking down at the robots, the robot on the floor, Sue controlling the robot, the hexapod moving, and Sue and the students looking down]

It enables computers to be able to recognise information from either images or videos without having a person actually say what is going on in those images. 

[Images move through of Sue on a tour wearing a hard hat, Sue sitting on a rock looking at the view, Sue on the beach writing in a notebook, and Sue standing by a lake looking at the camera]

When I was an undergraduate I studied earth sciences and I specialised in isotope geochemistry. 

[Image changes to show Sue talking to the camera and then the camera zooms in on Sue’s face as she talks]

I moved gradually from being a Research Scientist more into research management and research commercialisation.

[Camera zooms out on Sue talking and then images move through of Sue working on a robot]
Eventually when an opportunity came up for me to apply my skills in the area of robotics was something that I, I latched onto with both hands.

[Image changes to show Sue and some students working on the robot and talking and then the image changes to show Sue talking to the camera]

I think many people have non-linear career paths nowadays. 

[Image changes to show Sue standing next to an AUV robot and talking to some students while looking at the AUV]

While my background is in science I’ve always been fascinated by technology and the things that it can enable us to do. 

[Image changes to show Sue talking to the camera, and then the image changes to show R2D2 and C3PO, and then the image changes to show a photo of Sue as a young child]

The thing that fascinated me about the field of robotics was watching the Star Wars movie when I was a child. 

[Images move through of a comic animation of a robot, a male operating a machine, a flying saucer, a comic picture of a female and a robot in a vehicle, and then a small robot]

Science fiction can open your mind to the range of possibilities that might be available in the future. 

[Images move through of various hexapod type robots walking on various surfaces including carpet, cement, dry leaves and dirt, and then boards]

The robots that we specialise in this lab are robots that walk on legs. 

[Image changes to show Sue talking to the camera again]

We call them legged robots. 

[Image changes to show a four legged robot moving up a vertical surface and then the image changes to show a spider]

They resemble insects or spiders.

[Images move through of a hexapod moving across a surface, a spider moving, the hexapod moving again, and then the spider moving again]

The movement of our robots is actually very similar to the way that a spider moves. 

[Image changes to show Sue holding a hexapod and the camera zooms right in and text appears: Hexapod]

This robot is called a Hexapod because it has six legs. 

[Image changes to show Sue and the students watching the hexapod move over the floor and the camera zooms in on the hexapod and then the image changes to show an aircraft in the sky]

It was originally designed so that it could inspect small confined spaces like the inside of an aircraft wing.

[Images move through of an AUV moving through the water in a pool, Pepper the robot, and then Sue posing with a small human like robot] 


We use different designs for robots. In some instances we might have robots that look very much like humans. 

[Image changes to show a tracked robot moving over stony terrain, various wheeled robotic vehicles, and then a view from the inside of a driverless car as it moves down the road]

You might have a robot that is on tracks, and commonly we see robots on wheels, and the most common example of that is a Tesla. 

[Images move through of Sue and the students talking and looking at a robot, a thunderstorm in the sky, a plastic bottle floating in the water, a robot climbing a vertical surface, and a computer screen]

I believe that robots can help us tackle some of the biggest problems that face us our society 

[Images flash through of two robots communicating via two tins and a wire]

because once you train a robot and it knows how to do something it can share that information with all other robots. 

[Images move through to show Sue talking to the camera, brightly coloured tropical fish swimming over the coral on the Reef, Sue talking to the camera, and then Crown of Thorns starfish on the Reef]

If we can train robots that might help to protect the Great Barrier Reef, they can do things like help to plant new coral to help rejuvenate parts of the Reef or clear it of all the Crown of Thorns Starfish that are eating the Reef.

[Image changes to show Sue talking to the camera]

We have the potential to do that at scale and do something that we just simply can’t do with humans alone.

[Images move through to show students watching a hexapod, students working on a larger robot, Sue working on the Smart display with some students, and then the camera zooms in on Sue’s face]

Digital skills are fundamental to designing all of our technologies and having a STEM background is, I believe, one of the key ways that you can make a difference.

[Music plays and image changes to show a CSIRO logo and text on a white screen: CSIRO digital careers, digitalcareers.csiro.au]

[Image changes to show the CSIRO logo and text: CSIRO Australia’s National Science Agency]

Sue Keay

Briefly, what does your day-to-day work look like?

I spend a lot of time talking to people. My program consists of 130 researchers and engineers and my role is to make sure that they are working on great projects in collaboration with other parts of CSIRO to benefit Australian industry and the community. I have to do a lot of talking to get people to understand what we do, why it is important, and to encourage the formation of research questions that my program can apply their amazing skills to help solve.

What led you to this career/job?

I'm a research scientist who originally specialised in earth sciences and I have since applied my skills to building large-scale, multi-disciplinary teams to solve challenges that are important to Australia. Cyber-Physical systems are where we can apply digital technologies to the physical realm to come up with solutions using robotics, sensors, and computer vision that we've never been able to do in the past - so it is endlessly exciting.

What training do you have for this job?

I have a PhD in Earth Sciences and an MBA.

If you could change one thing about your industry/job what would it be?

I would like my industry to be 50:50 women and men. Our technologies should be developed by people who are representative of the society in which we live, which means there should be 50 per cent women contributing as opposed to the current 10 per cent.

What are the key skills, both technical and non-technical, you need to succeed in your job/industry?

An understanding of the scientific method, an ability to cut through technical jargon to understand the essence of research problems (and why they are important), and an ability to communicate this information to others.

If you had one piece of advice for young people getting into your industry, what would it be?

Stick with maths and science. In an increasingly technology-dependent society you need to be confident you understand how these technologies are developed and empowered to have your say in whether or not particular technologies are good for our society.